For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you will receive, this is Elijah which was to come. He that has ears to hear let him hear. Matthew 11:13-15.
His disciples asked, “Why do the scribes teach that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered, “Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has come already and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they desired. Likewise shall the Son of man also suffer of them.” Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13.
The relationship between John the Baptist and Elijah was a stumbling block for the Jews at the time that Jesus was ministering the gospel. Clearly, they were not one and the same person, as Elijah was taken directly to heaven hundreds of years before Christ. When the authorities in Jerusalem sent emissaries to inquire into the baptism of John, he was asked point blank, “Are you Elijah?” He answered “I am not. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord, as spoken by the prophet Isaiah. (John 1:19-23.) He did not suddenly appear on the scene the way Elijah did in 1 Kings 17, but we are given a narrative of his birth to Elizabeth and Zacharias in Luke chapter one. The Holy Spirit clarifies this by the prophecy given to Zacharias by the angel who announced his coming conception.
And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17.
The angel here references the prophecy of Malachi that Jesus also alludes to in Matthew 17 when he said Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things. Of course, John the Baptist did not restore anything, but simply announced the coming of the Lord, as the prophecy in Isaiah 40 that he refers to when questioned by the religious authorities. So what is the significance of this prophecy in Malachi?
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. Malachi 4:5, 6.
This is obviously a prophecy concerning the second coming and the judgment. The greater stumbling block for the Jew was that the Messiah would come twice, first as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. At the end of the age He will complete all prophecy with the day of God’s wrath. Jesus understood that anyone waiting for Messiah would expect Elijah first, and he was provided in the person of John who came in “the spirit and power of Elijah”. Consider how he works around this issue in Luke chapter four in the synagogue of Nazareth one Sabbath day when He was chosen to read from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised.
To preach the acceptable of year of the Lord. Luke 4:18, 19.
After stopping the reading abruptly, he sits back down and every eye is on Him, wondering why He has stopped. He then declares, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing.” So why suddenly stop reading? Because Isaiah 61:2 continued, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God”. We see the first and second coming mentioned in one verse, and Jesus declaring the fulfillment of only the acceptable year of the Lord.
So why do biblical scholars claim that the ministry of Jesus lasted three years? In John chapter 2 Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover when he drives the vendors from the temple, which is immediately followed by the days of Unleavened Bread. In John chapter 5 He returns to Jerusalem for the next feast, which would have been Firstfruits. In John chapter 7 He is at Jerusalem at the great feast, which is Tabernacles. In accordance with the Law of Moses, all Jewish men were required to appear “before the Lord” for these three feasts.
The next time we find Jesus in Jerusalem, Lazarus has been raised from the dead and all the people are already in the city for the upcoming Passover. He is greeted by the people as a coming king, in spite of the fact that He arrives on a donkey to fulfill the words of the prophet. He never sees the feast of unleavened bread and He keeps the Passover a day early because He knows his arrest and crucifixion are eminent. This completed the acceptable year of the Lord. Do you really think that Jesus came to Jerusalem three times as prescribed by the Law, worked miracles, declared Himself to be the Son of God and provoked the religious authorities by calling them a generation of vipers and then said No? Okay, I’ll try again next year for the less acceptable year of the Lord round two. Once Jesus reached the age of 30, He began His ministry and fulfilled His Father’s Will. When He comes again it will the Day of the Lord.